Let's "tri" something new!
How do I get myself into these things?Well, it makes sense. As I've continued my training for marathons I have been adding more cross training into my regimen and swimming was the first. Great cardio without the pounding that drives our knees and ankles and hips crazy. We belong to a fitness club with great swim facilities (both indoor and outdoor) and they are really great about keeping swim lanes available at all times. All I had to do was just get in there and get started .... easy!
But who took swim lessons as a kid? Not me!!
With a lot of reading and watching swimming videos I slowly got the hang of things enough that I could do 5+ laps at a time, rest a bit and repeat. Within a half hour I could get some marginal aerobic conditioning.
I had decided to do 2 full marathons in 2017, first the San Francisco Marathon in July and then the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC in October. I had mostly been doing only 1 full marathon per year combined with numerous half marathons and random smaller events but I had done 2 full marathons back in 2014 so I knew the wear and tear of that amount of training. Once I got some confidence with the swimming during the winter I was able to add in some laps each week to supplement my marathon training.
Well, you're 2/3s there now and everyone can ride a bike!As I've written many times previously, I find the running community to be some really great people. And also, the kind of people who can challenge us to be our best. I began to talk with one of the guys that I saw in the pool frequently -- this guy could really swim and I wanted to pick his brain. He's one of these people who appears to have zero resistance against the water, he seems to just cut through like a warm knife through butter. Great technique and that's how you can rack up the laps and get real good aerobic benefit. He is also a runner and -- wouldn't you guess -- a triathlete. Same welcoming manner, same openness to help me and make me feel comfortable.
When we discussed what each of our planned events were for 2017, I mentioned that I wanted to use swimming to supplement my marathon training. Which he fully understood and reinforced as a good plan. When he shared his planned events he included a few triathlons across the 2017 calendar and he just winked and said, "hey, you're 2/3s there now and everyone can ride a bike..."! "Arggg" I said, "no way"!
Who knew; triathlons come in different distances!I kind of knew this but not the details. I think back to when I first began running 5Ks and I thought how daunting and unattainable a full marathon would ever be. Well, when it comes to triathlons, I simply put that one out of my head. Ain't no way! Images of IronMan events on TV and 9-hour durations. Nope, not gonna do it!
Until my new swimming buddy took time to read me in (duh on my part). Just like running events that come in common distances like 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), half marathon (13.1 miles), full marathon (26.2 miles) and then ultra marathons of 35, 50 and 100 miles ... triathlons also come in a few well-defined distances like:
A few small details to consider...
And one more 4-letter word: bike! Who has one? Who has ridden one in the last 25 years (aside from a stationary bike in the gym from time to time). So yeah, we have a few small details to deal with!
And then you learn about the 4th facet of triathlon (like swim and bike and run weren't enough)When you switch from swimming to your bike and then again from your bike to running, they call this "transition" in triathlon-ese. Specifically T1 and T2. And the time it takes you to do your best Superman changing in a phone-booth routine counts toward your total event time. So getting in and out of T1 and T2 is a thing. And this can really range in time and takes its own bit of practice -- especially for a novice.
Just purchase entry to an event, then figure it all outHaving entered and completed enough running races I knew that buying an entry was the best way to lock myself in. For some added incentive, I have various work colleagues internationally who are triathletes and their supportive guidance was influential. I had some meetings in Lisbon first week in March and their stories about their experiences really pushed me over the top. With the advice of my pool swimming buddy and also checking with Ryan, my friend who got me into my first 5K a few years back, I selected the New Jersey State Triathlon. The event wasn't until July so I could now set a training plan.
Get back on the horse ... or bikeThe best advice is to go easy on purchasing a bike. This can become an extremely expensive purchase if you get caught up in all the bells and whistles. The best suggestion I got was to buy an intermediate level road bike and consider some small customizations to be more appropriate for triathlon. I got this bike in March and began to slowly incorporate some riding into my weekly training regimen as the weather got warmer.
To clip or not to clipAs I quickly learned, feet slipping off the pedals as I began to push harder and pedal faster became annoying very quickly. Not to mention the wasted energy. So I quickly read up on those goofy bike shoes that "clip in" to special pedals because that keeps your feet locked-in. No more slipping off the pedals, full efficiency of energy, etc. And oh yeah, you fall down and go boom! Getting in -- and most importantly out -- of the pedals is a skill you'd better learn. Quickly! Because the first time you slow down and come to stop, you're going down! You cannot put your foot down to lean on until you "un-clip" from the pedal. Not a natural reflex at all. Just look on YouTube, there's lots of funny videos of cyclists learning and falling. Suffice to say, this was a priority.
The eventAs I do in my running race reviews I will provide a brief review of the event here. Not too detailed but hopefully helpful for anyone else planning for their first triathlon.
The New Jersey State Triathlon is run by the folks at CGI racing. They also do the annual Rutgers Unite Half Marathon that I have done many times. They do a great job at Rutgers and as I expected, a phenomenal job with this triathlon. The event hosts both the Sprint and Olympic length races held on Saturday and Sunday respectively at the Mercer County Park in West Windsor NJ.
What a gorgeous venue, such a huge park and a beautifully cared for lake to host the swimming. The bike and run courses are flat and lend to really great times.
The transition areas are well laid-out and roomy so you don't feel crowded among all the participants. On the left you can see the transition area on Friday, well laid out and all slots identified clearly. Very important to find your slot so that you can set your transition area on Saturday morning.
Next you can see how busy things get on Saturday morning with everyone setting up their transition areas. Notice these bike racks are ground-based and you slot your bike tire into the numbered groove. Many other events use standing bike racks -- just another technique. The bikes are racked in alternating directions to create space for us to set up. This event aligns the transition areas by the 5-year age groupings that will be used for the start waves. This way I got to meet some of the other old geezers like me in the morning to establish some camaraderie. I seem to be the first "triathlon virgin" in this area today so they all wish me luck. We will see each other as we line up to enter the lake and again during the transitions if our paces align.
Next, a picture of my transition setup area with the numbered slot matching my race bib number 354. Everyone uses a small space on the ground near their bike for their setup. Things are all laid out in the order that you will use them; bike shoes, helmet, shades, etc. first and then running shoes, hat, etc. in the back. Best idea is to use an easily identifiable towel because in the heat of the event it's important not to waste time searching the small numbers for your slot. I kinda like my red, white and blue towel!!
So how did it go? I loved it!We were blessed with beautiful weather -- approximately 65 degrees for our 07:40 wave start and only heating up to about 80 degrees by the time we finished the run 90 minutes later. Swim waves went off every 5 minutes in groupings of some youngsters plus some oldsters. For example, my group was males 30-34 and 60-64.
Spoiler alert: no I did not have the opportunity to practice any open water swims during my training. So I was a bit anxious about that but otherwise I felt very comfortable in the swim. My strategy was to stay off to the side and let the crazies rush ahead in a big pack. Well, mine wasn't exactly a novel idea -- many others used the same technique. So "off to the side" became "in a pack" of its own real quickly. I was very disciplined to get into my regular freestyle stroke and began to forge ahead. I'm glad I have done so many large-scale running events that I was able to control the natural adrenaline rush so I didn't trash my wind. I kept it slow and steady and the yards slowly went by. By the time I did my first distance check we had already passed the 200 yard buoy.
Every wave-group is given a color-coded swim cap so the guards and judges can identify us. Ironic the color choice for my group -- a nice skin-toned orange that blends in so nicely with my un-hair!
Jogging barefoot across that pebbled path to get to our bikes is a bit uncomfortable but we are quickly onto grass which is much softer.
Just getting started on our bikes is a bit chilly as we are still wet. But we quickly dry off -- only to be replaced by sweat in about 10 minutes. During the 11-mile bike ride it was easy to get caught up in the adrenaline to really push. More elite riders come buzzing by throughout the course and it's human nature to try to mimic their pace. I was glad that I had followed advice to do some "brick runs" in my training where you ride for a while and then quickly get into your running shoes and run. A very odd feeling in your legs until your blood flow can smooth out after the effects of the the bike saddle and leg positions.
After the ride and my final transition I am finally back into my element running a 5K race. After my brick legs loosen up I quickly reach my 8:15/mile pace. The run course is out-and-back on a fairly flat path throughout the park so there is lots of banter among the runners as we pass each other coming and going. I even saw my friend Ryan on his way back in so I got to call out to him and he yelled back. He cruises with the elites and somehow appears that his feet don't even touch the ground. So smooth!
As I turned the corner into the long gauntlet to the finish line I could hear lots of great fan support. Since our start-wave went out fairly early, most of the participants were still behind us and we had the finish line to ourselves.The announcers call out your name and hometown as you approach the line. That's a really nice touch. The Finish Lines of full marathons still have a special place in my heart but this Finish Line was a real kick. One of my friends had said that a Sprint Triathlon like this would probably feel like the exertion level of a Half Marathon and I suppose he was right -- assuming you master a good swim stroke so you don't completely exhaust yourself with poor form and you don't completely destroy yourself trying to speed-cycle your way through the entire bike course.
Not bad for my first effort and I plan to improve these times in the next few months:
Total time: 01:28:03
Swim time (500 yards): 12:57
Transition 1: 4:19
Bike time (11.5 miles): 39:44
Transition 2: 4:02
Run time (5K): 26:58
(Note to self, some folks do their transitions in under 1 minute 30 seconds each. I can get my total time below 01:25:00 just doing my transitions better).
Once again, proud to wear blue: